Today we begin the third week of Advent, the great and beautiful season of preparation for the coming of Jesus. As we have noted, our preparation is two-fold: first, we prepare to commemorate the first coming of the Word-made-flesh, a man like us, born on one silent, calm and holy night; second, we prepare for his second coming to judge the living and the dead.
The need for preparation is what St. John the Baptist preached in the desert. He called people to the baptism of repentance at the Jordan River. Always careful to distinguish his own mission from that of the Messiah (the Christ), John insisted with all humility that he was not what people thought he was. He was no more than “the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” Repentance is key to being prepared. To make straight the way of the Lord we must flatten the mountains that our pride, greed and other sins have raised up in our hearts.
Advent, then, has a clear penitential dimension. We can see this in its use of violet as the season’s liturgical color. Violet (which we also use during Lent) signifies repentance; it reminds us that our preparation for new life involves the death of our old, sinful life. We acknowledge our sinfulness and ask for mercy, by which the Lord himself prepares us for his coming.
However, Advent also has a joyful dimension, a joy which grows each day in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah. Today, Gaudete Sunday, is a special reminder of this spirit of Christian joy. In the middle of the violet season, we use the joyful color rose, as the violet of our penance is already influenced by the festive white of the Christmas season. It is good to be reminded that the Christian life, even amidst sorrows and sacrifices, is a life of joy. Gaudete Sunday is a tangible sign of hope that we are getting nearer to the arrival of our long-awaited Messiah.
Yes, what we are waiting for is not ordinary. The Lord’s coming brings glad tidings to the poor, healing, liberty, justice and peace. This is what John is heralding, the coming of the Prince of Peace, the Lord’s Anointed. Jesus’ coming has always been anticipated with joy, as foretold by the prophets of old. At the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel greeted the Blessed Virgin Mary with the word “rejoice!” John himself leapt for joy in his mother’s womb when he first sensed the presence of the hidden Messiah. Jesus is the source of all joy. Thus, his followers must be people of joy. “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1). If we truly believe in Christ and in the Good News that he brings, then we will be filled with joy, and that joy will radiate to others.
One of the privileged and joyful moments of encounter with Jesus is when we pray. In the second reading, St. Paul puts joy and prayer side by side: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.” Paul knew well that it is through prayer that we develop our relationship with Christ. We listen to him, talk to him and simply spend time with him. This is how all relationships grow. When we spend more time with the Lord, he fills us with his own peace. As a result, our inner joy will not be disturbed, even amidst storms on the turbulent sea of life.
Another way to maintain joy in life is to be thankful for everything that God has given us. “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” No day is without blessings from the goodness of God. When we remember God’s goodness and love, we learn to recognize that there was never a time when he left us alone. Even our most painful times are providentially ordered for the sake of some future good. A thankful heart remembers good things and knows how to trust in God always. A trusting heart has a joy that nothing can disturb.
The greatest model of joy based on an intimate relationship with God is that of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today’s Responsorial Psalm is her canticle, the Magnificat. In Mary’s prayer, we can see that she puts flesh on the instruction we read from St. Paul. Her soul rejoices in God because she remembers all the good things the Lord has done for her and her people, Israel. Following her example, we renew our faith and hope. May the joy that comes from faith grow in our hearts and radiate to others. Rejoice! Pray! Give thanks!
What enables me to live a life of joy even amidst sorrows and sacrifices? How has prayer given me inner joy and peace of mind? Do I possess a thankful heart, remembering good things and knowing how to trust in God always?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.